This month Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Friday Night Spotlight Series will feature Classic Pre-Code. Pre-Code is the term used for films made between the late 1920’s and early 1934, when studios made titillating and so-called scandalous movies, even when a Production Code had been in place since 1930. After many protests from civic groups, women groups, and some religious groups, Hollywood producers and studios were forced to implement the Production Code with several morals clauses; such as, “You cannot have a film that would lower the moral standards of someone that would see it.” “You cannot show a criminal getting away with something, there must be payment or retribution for his crime.” “No sympathy for criminals.” “You cannot present adultery or scenes of passion attractively.” “No lustful kissing.” “No man or woman in bed together.” The list goes on and on.
In my humble opinion as a film historian, I find the pre-code films are for adults and tastefully done for the most part. It is not like porn, the way some reviewers react. They giggle at hearing a bad word or seeing woman undress. I do not see that at all.
If you want to find out more may I recommend Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood by MarkA. Vieira. I consider it to be the best resourced book on the subject. Mark Vieira is its foremost authority, and it is packed with tons of photographs.
Unlike last week, there are many films I am looking forward to seeing that I have not seen before.
The Naughty Flirt (1931) is one I have not seen. Starring Alice White, Paul Page, and Myrna Loy. Alice White is one of my favorite actresses and she is much underrated. Unfortunately, she was involved in a tabloid sex scandal that ruined her career. (More about that in a future blog!) A romantic comedy about an heiress in love with the man who works at her father’s law firm, and a brother and sister who try to screw things up. If you love Clara Bow, so too will you love Alice White.
Ten Cents A Dance (1931) Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Ricardo Cortez, Sally Blane and directed by Lionel Barrymore. If you loved Barbara in Pre-Code movies last week, get ready for more! This happens to be the very first Stanwyck picture I ever saw! The title comes from a song at the time that was popularized by Ruth Etting. In it Miss Stanwyck plays a married taxi dancer; (where a male patron pays to dance with her and she makes a commission.) This was a common occupation for young ladies during The Depression. Barbara although married falls in love with one of her customers. Sally Blane who is also in the movie as Molly is actress Loretta Young’s older sister.
Union Depot (1932) Starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joan Blondell, Alan Hale, and Guy Kibbee. Another movie I have not seen. It is the story of a group of people down on their luck when Fairbanks finds a suitcase full of money. From what I have read about Joan Blondell’s performance in this film, this is a must see!
Bombshell (1933) Starring Jean Harlow, Lee Tracy, Franchot Tone, Una Merkel, and Frank Morgan. This movie is said to have been a parody of Clara Bow’s life as publicized in the press. However, it can also be said to be a parody of Jean Harlow’s own image, considering she is shown filming a scene from Red Dust, and the studio controlling her life. Watching this movie makes you wonder if this is how Harlow really felt. If you are unfamiliar with Jean Harlow, and think she is the Marilyn Monroe type “dumb blonde” as she is often portrayed in biopics and “certain” books, just know that her acting was good as she was gorgeous! The fact that Lee Tracy’s character was somewhat based on MGM’S publicity agent Howard Strickling, makes it seem as though it was actually taken out of Jean Harlow’s life. Lee Tracy’s performance is so fast and annoying that you have to pay attention, because he is always up to something. I never thought another actor could be louder than Pat O’Brien!
Red Headed Woman (1932) Starring Jean Harlow, Chester Morris, and Una Merkel. Jean Harlow was known for her platinum blonde hair, Irving Thalberg cast her in her first film at MGM as a red-head. The script was written by Anita Loos, famous for writing Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. According to the book “Sin in Soft Focus Pre-Code Hollywood,” by Mark Vieira, when they saw the script and film, the censors had a fit! I have not seen this movie yet but according to TCM’s synopsis, it is about “an ambitious secretary who tries to sleep her way into high society.” I am looking forward to it!
Red Dust (1932) Starring Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, and Mary Astor. Gable is a plantation owner in Indochina. He fools around with a married woman, Mary Astor, and a prostitute, Jean Harlow. Usually laid-back Clark Gable even thought some of the scenes were vulgar. There were some delays behind the scenes because as the movie was filming, Jean Harlow’s husband, Paul Bern either committed suicide or was murdered by his first wife who had some mental issues; it was never determined. If you feel this movie looks familiar to you, it was remade in 1953 as Mogambo, again starring Clark Gable, but this time with Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner.
The Story of Temple Drake (1933) Starring Miriam Hopkins, William Gargan, and Jack La Rue. Of all the films I have not seen, this is the film I have most been looking forward to. A southern flirt gets more than she bargains for when she gets involved with a gangster. It involves very disturbing subject matter such as rape and violence.
Freaks (1932) Starring Wallace Ford, Olga Baclanova, Harry Earles, and the Hilton Twins. I have never seen this yet, I have always wanted to. It is about a carnival with freaks and scandals. Directed by Tod Browning (who made "Dracula" the previous year) A very good friend of mine out Hollywood way calls this movie one of her “cinematic obsessions!” So, this should be very interesting for me.
For the other films listed for TCM, please check your local listings for the times.
Hope you watch and enjoy!!!
Alice White and Paul Page in "The Naughty Flirt" (1931) Credit: Toronto Film Society Used under fair use.
Credit: immortalephemera.com. Used under fair use.
Joan Blondell and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in “Union Depot” Credit: acertaincinema.com. Used under Fair Use.
Joan Blondell in "Union Depot" (1932) Credit: immortalephemera.com. Used under fair use.
Mary Astor and Clark Gable in "Red Dust" (1932)
Too vulgar for you Mr. Gable?
Miriam Hopkins in The Story of Temple Drake (1933) Credit: MoMa Used under fair use
Credit: immortalephemera.com. Used under fair use.
Daisy and Violet Hilton in "Freaks" (1932)
Barbara Stanwyck in "Ten Cents A Dance" (1931) Copyright: Columbia Pictures. Used under fair use.
Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for fair use for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal . 2014 Bobby J. Sulecki